The Complete Poems: Anne Sexton


source: free review copy via NetGalley / Open Road Media
title: The Complete Poems: Anne Sexton
published: April 5, 2016
pages: 340
genre: poetry

The collected works of Anne Sexton showcase the astonishing career of one of the twentieth century’s most influential poets

For Anne Sexton, writing served as both a means of expressing the inner turmoil she experienced for most of her life and as a therapeutic force through which she exorcised her demons. Some of the richest poetic descriptions of depression, anxiety, and desperate hope can be found within Sexton’s work. The Complete Poems, which includes the eight collections published during her life, two posthumously published books, and other poems collected after her death, brings together her remarkable body of work with all of its range of emotion.

With her first collection, the haunting To Bedlam and Part Way Back, Sexton stunned critics with her frank treatment of subjects like masturbation, incest, and abortion, blazing a trail for representations of the body, particularly the female body, in poetry. She documented four years of mental illness in her moving Pulitzer Prize–winning collection Live or Die, and reimagined classic fairy tales as macabre and sardonic poems in Transformations. The Awful Rowing Toward God, the last book finished in her lifetime, is an earnest and affecting meditation on the existence of God. As a whole, The Complete Poems reveals a brilliant yet tormented poet who bared her deepest urges, fears, and desires in order to create extraordinarily striking and enduring art.

My thoughts:

I find that Anne Sexton’s work is painful, beautiful and uncomfortable all at once. This is a nice collection for those especially who enjoy her poetry. This contains the complete collection of her work in the order that she wrote it, ending with the poems that were published posthumously.

I have spent many nights curled up in bed reading a poem or two before falling asleep. Sexton was writing during the 60’s and 70’s  when some of the themes in her poetry were viewed as controversial, but she wrote about them anyway. I admire that. On reading her work, I feel like she was pouring her heart and soul out. There is an edgy vibe to her poetry with themes of love, loss, God, death and family among other things.  I haven’t read every single poem yet, but these are a few snippets from my favorites.

From You, Doctor Martin:
And we are magic talking to itself,
noisy and alone. I am queen of all my sins
forgotten. Am I still lost?
Once I was beautiful. Now I am myself,
counting this row and that row of moccasins
waiting on the silent shelf.

I really like this one below about writing and how she “grapples with dead disciples”. I think these are my favorite lines in the collection so far.

From Mother and Jack and the Rain:
With this pen I take in hand my selves
and with these dead disciples I will grapple.
Though rain curses the window
let the poem be made.

Unfortunately Anne Sexton suffered from severe mental illness and you can read the pain in her work. There is definitely a sadness there. I read her daughters memoir, Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide, years ago as a review request and it was one of those memoirs that is dark. I remember feeling drained after finishing it and uncomfortable while reading it.

Food went out of my fingers.
They became stone.
My body became a side of mutton
and despair roamed the slaughterhouse.

I enjoyed this collection and will be looking to get a hard copy for my shelves.

Disclaimer: This review is my honest opinion. I did not receive any kind of compensation for reading and reviewing this book. I am under no obligation to write a positive review. My free review copy of The Complete Poems: Anne Sexton came via NetGalley. Special thanks to Open Road Media.

9 thoughts on “The Complete Poems: Anne Sexton

  1. I had never read Sexton before.

    I like the verse that you posted.

    So many great writers were no strangers to suffering. One wonders what their work would be like if things were different for them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Naida,

    The great thing about poetry books, is that you can dip in and out of them, rather than have to read from cover to cover.

    If the verses you shared are indicative of the entire collection, I think I might struggle to read more than one or two at a time, in fact I might not ever read them all, as I find this style of writing a little too depressing for my liking.

    Brian makes a good point about many of the great writers being no strangers to suffering and mental illness. Anne certainly seems to have found some release from her inner turmoil, through her poetry.

    Thanks for sharing and I hope that all is well with you (and Huey 🙂 )


    Liked by 1 person

  3. I do not know if I have read anything by Sexton before. What you shared of her work is beautiful and so sad. I can see why her work would leave you feeling exhausted. It would me too. Worth reading just the same though, isn’t it?


chat away

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.